How did you get started in graphic design, UX, and UI?
Completely by accident. I was just looking for a job in the design field, and I came across an ad for a web designer, so that’s what I started as. Over time, that evolved into working as a more in-depth UX designer, a completely different field. I gained experience and observations and became curious about the subject matter of design, interactive interfaces, all of it. That’s how it happened.
Otherwise, I've always been involved with design. I started studying art and design in high school.
I have a clear visual memory of sitting down to draw on a computer for the first time. My mother had started working at a small ad agency in a garage, making vinyl lettering.
Eventually, she invested in a computer. She had learned CorelDRAW, and I was still in kindergarten. And she said to me, "Do you want to see how interesting it is to draw on a computer? Let's give it a try". We sat down and started drawing some ducks, trees - kid stuff. And then we printed them out. I was fascinated with how something you did on a computer could be transferred to another medium. That's how I started getting into this stuff.
I’ve always loved solving complex problems and tackling impossible objectives. Every project has a puzzle - you have to track down the unexpected things, reveal the pitfalls, find the things that nobody thought of, and solve the challenge for your client, your end user, whoever.
What goes into a quality UX/UI design?
It's essential to be extremely curious and always ask a lot of questions. Why is this happening? Why is this person saying this thing? Why is that person expressing this behaviour?
Find the answers to these questions and the design will create itself. Once you have the answers to the why and how the design comes together on its own. Good design answers questions.
The actual graphical part of the design is a matter of finding the right aesthetic, which is equally as important.
Kalina's college thesis - 'The Train of Life'. This piece represents the recurrence of events over one's life. Made from ultra-light materials as a counterpoint to a traditional sculpture's permanence.
How do you approach each project?
Every project is strictly individual and needs the application of different methodologies and tools, but in general, an overarching framework can be followed. First, you have this moment of asking questions, this moment of research that helps us understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, how it will help us achieve the specific goal, etc. Then we thoroughly analyse the data we have collected and start looking for different options and solutions, start collecting ideas.
Things happen one after the other through a workshop, conversations, or communication with the team. Then comes the experimentation phase, where you’re trying out different things with the interface and the design. Then you test, gather feedback, run the design through its paces to see if it can withstand any critical situation, and finally, implement it. Those are the basics.
There are a lot of different tools we can use - customer journey mapping, service blueprints, diary studies, interviews - it depends on the conditions, the customer, the product itself, the resources we have.
It's crucial that one doesn't become a slave to the process because, at some point, that limits the final product. It is important to be flexible, stay innovative, and find new ways to achieve results and optimise different processes. Routine is the death of creativity.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
One part is pure intuition. I believe that designers - and people in general - should rely on their intuition. There are subconscious patterns that the mind has built up over time. You might feel like it just happens, but it is, in fact, the fruit of your experience and observations, your collected impressions of the world around you.
The other part is strong logic. These are the two things that together should underscore a designer’s work. They should be intuitive and super logical, with an excellent understanding of causality.
As for me personally, anything can be an inspiration. I love walking in the woods or reading a book. A lot depends on the situation itself - whether it's looking at a book of designs, looking at other people's stuff, listening to music, talking - sometimes people themselves are an inspiration. You talk to someone about a topic, and the ideas naturally come out one after the other. Inspiration is everywhere, as long as you look for it.
A nature hike through one of Bulgaria's most beautiful locations - Kamen Bryag
Intuition is a condensed collection of everything you've learned that's been internalised. Sometimes you just have to feed your process until things ‘click’.
I absolutely agree. And in the end, nobody trusts themselves. How can we be sure at all in anything we do? It really is not a magical thing.
An interesting thing has been happening to me in some projects. I’ll put off making a decision on a project until the last minute, even when nearing a deadline. Just because, internally, I feel I'm not ready for it. I’m not fully decided on a particular aspect of the problem I'm solving, and I just hold off until the last minute to take action. People call it procrastination, but it's not really due to any laziness on my part or anything. If you rush things, you might not have taken some element into account. You might not have thought it through well enough. You might not yet have figured out something that you'll learn tomorrow.
The right moment comes when things need to happen. That's usually when they happen best.
I don't start designing on a computer. I do it in my head first. The question is, what's behind the design? Does it make sense? Has it been adequately thought out against all our requirements and constraints? When you have the idea in your head, and you've answered those questions, you can do the design in five minutes on the computer, and it will be what it should be.
How do you work through a creative block?
The moment I feel myself endlessly cycling through the same things on-screen, I immediately stop and go do something else until I figure out what I need.
Something I've developed as a practice is, I don't give the client options. I always present the solution that I think is best. I have a couple of filtering phases - the first one is during this mental exercise, where I consider the question through and look for solutions, and I filter out dozens of options in my head.
I know that the solution has to perform x, y, and z functions, we have x, y, and z constraints, and we must comply with this, this, and that. Based on that, I start coming up with possible options that can be applied to the given situation, and I start ticking them off one by one. There could be hundreds of options, but I limit them to two or three. This whole process can happen within minutes.
Finally, when I have 2 - 3 options left, I try the one that I think is the best fit. If it doesn't work, I try the next one, and so on until I look at the screen and I just go, “yes, this is it”, and I know that I've met all the requirements and solved the puzzle.
Generally, a good design is one you can't add anything to and can't take anything away from. It feels airtight - end of story.
There's a quote I read a while back that's stuck with me - that a piece of work isn't complete when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to remove.
Right. Absolutely. I closely follow the principle of induction, deduction, and reduction. And it works. It is foolproof. You collect all the things first, then you analyse, and then you just start removing.
I almost never have creative blocks. But when I do, they’re spectacular. They’re colossal. It's almost overwhelming. First, I try doing things on my own. It can take months. I'm trying out different options, I'm connecting the design to something else, I start looking at designs or reading literature that reminds me of that.
I'm trying to look at things outside of the frame I'd initially set for them because usually, when I mentally block, it’s also due in part to some initial limitation that I've set for myself, and I’ve become so caught up in and fixated on that. You forget that you can try something different, you can go outside that box or just break it and try something illogical, even if it looks ugly and broken and it doesn't work - just try some new things.
Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. When that doesn't work either, I reach out to someone to talk to. We look at the problem together, we discuss it, I seek someone else's opinion.
An abstract linocut representing a discord between idiosyncratic elements
People tend to think that working untethered from any limitations is ideal, but for creative work, it's usually best to erect a framework within which to work. What is your approach to setting creative limits?
Yes, exactly. You have to systematise, arrange, organise, and have it come to some new life. I can't think if I don't put things in order. I can't make sense of things for myself if I don't.
And by the way, working without boundaries is much harder. If you don't frame things for yourself, you don't define what your form is - the boundaries are part of the creation. They're the design. Defining the boundaries of a system is the creation of things.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your field? Or, to put it another way, how would you do things if you were to start over?
I wouldn't worry as much. At some points, I feel like I'm very self-conscious about certain things. I wouldn't worry as much, and I wouldn't rush as much. Sometimes, patience helps a lot, and you don't have patience when you're young. You want to get it all done right now and see the result as soon as possible - instant gratification. And usually, good things take time. That's what I would advise those who are starting now - to have patience. Things take time, and not everything happens right away.
Something not happening immediately isn't a cause for drama, hysteria, frustration, or giving up. You need perseverance.
What's it like working with these new, emerging technologies?
It's fascinating - the chance to work with a new technology that hasn't existed before opens up a lot of possibilities. You do things that haven't been done before. You face problems that haven't been faced before. You're learning new things all the time.
I enjoy learning how things work and don't get excited about design as just a picture or a button to press. What's going on behind the design, behind the scenes? How does the system communicate with the end user? That’s the exciting part.
At the end of the day, we're talking about people here, and they're not making technology for technology's sake. Ideally, people can benefit from technology, and it will improve their lifestyles.
Technology itself allows you to do many new things that weren't possible before. It opens doors from a business, people, and even design perspective. It makes it possible to do things that haven't been done before.
Kalina and her colleagues discussing an INDUSTRIA project
Is there a different approach to designing for these newer technologies?
There are differences. Of course, all the generally accepted rules and laws of design apply.
But because these systems are highly transactional - that's their point, to serve and verify different transactions - that leads to design implications that need to be focused on transparent communication between the systems and the people.
One needs to be aware of the system's status at all times for communication to flow properly. This is extremely important, so you have to ensure that every parameter or attribute is presented perfectly in it’s correct state.
Tell me about yourself
I am extraordinarily introverted. I don't like going to parties. I have a hard time talking to people, although when I have to, I manage pretty well. But it's kind of a paradox. I have social anxiety, and attending parties and any social gatherings stresses me out tremendously. Still, maybe over time, I've learned how to go about it, and I've become an expert at arguing and convincing other people of one thing or another, communicating different ideas and theories. So there's kind of that clash.
And as an introverted person, I love introverted activities. I love reading, watching movies, and looking at design albums. I have a collection - different artists, architecture, and ancient cultures also really interest me. I try to maintain a rich library.
Recently, I've started collecting regional cookbooks. I have one on Turkey, another on France, and a few on Bulgaria that are more interesting, and that's one of the things I like to do. I also enjoy collecting vinyl records. I listen to all different styles. I'm interested in music from different regions, countries, and ethnicities. Those are the two main things I collect. I used to collect doilies when I was a kid.
I have a dog named Katsi [Къци“ in Bulgarian], a rescued street dog. We rescued his mother, she had puppies, and he stayed with us. He looks a bit like a fox.
Kalina's dog, Katsi, playing with a stick on the beach
And I play the piano. I actually started at the end of kindergarten, at the beginning of school. I started taking lessons, and for seven years, I mainly did that throughout school. I was actually supposed to be a musician. I've won competitions, I toured, but just before the seventh-grade exams, I decided I wasn't going to play anymore - I was going to draw. Now I just play for fun.
And lastly, I can say that I'm a workaholic. Besides what I do at INDUSTRIA, I do other design-related things. I do office interiors, I design book covers, you name it. I just love it. It's very fulfilling as a job, and I love doing it. Besides being my profession, it's also my hobby.
You're openly passionate about preventing plastic pollution. What do you find essential in pursuing it as a mission?
Yeah, that's one of the things I'm passionate about, definitely. I can't say that I'm any kind of serious activist, and I'm not very interested in public things at all. I try to live in a way where I minimise my harmful impact on the world around me, not just purely physically with the garbage that I produce, the harmful emissions that I produce, etc., but even emotionally, towards people — not creating an unhealthy environment for the people around me and in their lives, at least those that I have some influence over.
After all, we’re very much beginning to understand that we’re living in a kind of excess of things, that we don't need this much stuff. It's all about making conscious choices - knowing the answer to why you're buying something. Do you really need it? That's the important part.
I believe we have to be good people. That's how I was brought up. My parents are theologians, and I grew up in and around the university my mother studied at. I had the opportunity to learn about different value systems - different beliefs, different cultures, and different ethical and moral principles. Very early on, I started to build my own and gathered what I liked from different places.
But it revolves around this - we just have to be good to each other. And if you're good and want to do good to people, things come naturally. And if you know it's going to hurt somebody, you’re aware of that, would you do it? No. If I know I'm going to hurt somebody, I'm not going to say or do something that would make them feel bad. It's not always 100 per cent possible for a person to do it, but we should at least try.
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